Western Springs Forest - Wellbeing of Community

On Monday 24 May, the last of the magnificent Monterey pines that have towered above the Western Springs forest for decades were needlessly felled, causing the destruction of a large portion of the mature native under storey.

It is hard to fathom how the contractor is going to return the ‘track’ back to the quality of a ‘Significant Ecological Area’ as required by the Resource Consent, ready for planting next month. I doubt they will bother to comply.

For years the local community have fought against the might of the Auckland Council, who have waged a war of misinformation, capped off last week with the circulation of two flyers that contained numerous significant ‘inaccuracies’ that set out to mislead, including claims that contradict the ‘Independent Risk Assessment’ on Council’s own website which stated only a quarter needed dead trees and branches removed; it’s called ‘maintenance’. The Council’s own ‘Independent Risk Assessment’ also proves the original ‘expert’, got it wrong when in 2006 he claimed all the 200 trees were ‘dead and dying’. That being said, this whole process has been about winning even when being proven wrong, by themselves.

Council have ignored expert advice around measuring the potential structural effects of falling trees on neighbouring homes. Residents were told by Council staff that homes without the relevant measuring equipment would not be covered by insurance. Understandably, without assurances, residents refused to vacate and stayed within the ‘two tree length no go zone’ for leverage to try and get Council to do what the court mandated.

The community made one last plea to save one of the most magnificent Monterey Pines, with a luscious crown of green needles standing sentinel on the ridge, overseeing the new forest. Experts have deemed it has another 50 years of healthy life.

Whilst awaiting a decision, a group of protectors stood under the tree, but instead of a modicum of engagement with community, Chief Executive Jim Stabback doubled down on his nonsense ‘Health and Safety’ rhetoric and refused the request.

As we stood on a nearby property, chainsaws roared and with a huge creak and thud the tree fell crushing the native forest beneath. Two local police constables comforted shocked and tearful residents, at the finality of this loss. I have to admit, being hugged by constables in full body armour was not on my ‘bucket list’. Their empathy was compassionate and honourable, a credit to their uniforms.

For Auckland Council, this ‘win at all costs’ ideology, when the public question shaky rationale and unnecessary expenditure, has been characterised by a failure to engage in authentic consultation with the community. The tragic result of this bullying has been the destruction of a large section of mature native forest, at huge financial cost to ratepayers. It has placed a huge emotional strain on the community who has rallied against this madness. The actions contradict Council’s ‘Urban Ngahere Plan’ and their self-proclaimed ‘Climate Change Emergency’.

Council has the chance to regain some community support, by selecting two to five metre high natives to replace the mature natives that were both cut down to build the access road and also those that were crushed by felling pines on top of them, rather than the 20cm high PB5 seedlings proposed. Planting larger trees now will be the difference of a young native forest in our lifetime or a shrubbery.

Gael Baldock, Community Advocate

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